White Plume Family Loses House to Fire
December 2007 — We’re sad to report that the White Plume family lost their home in an electrical fire this month. Thankfully no one was hurt, but according to this report on Daily Kos, “[Debra White Plume] only had time to snatch her grandson, pipe, purse, and cellphone & get out the door. Everything burned. Total loss. All papers even computers. ‘It all happened in a half hour,’ she said.” (link)
Tom Murphy, the Daily Kos blogger who wrote about the fire last week, is accepting donations for the White Plume family. Although they have found a place to stay, they are in need of financial support to rebuild their home.
Find out more about the White Plume family on the POV Blog.
Alex White Plume’s Update
June 2007 –The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the local district court’s decision will stand, but they also said that there is a hemp farm and there is a marijuana farm, and so they distinguished between the two species of plants. But only Congress can change the law. I wanted to go to the Supreme Court, which is our next step, but I don’t have the $300,000 it’ll take to go there. Besides that, the Supreme Court has always been an enemy to the Lakota. They always diminish our sovereignty, based on the fact of the “doctrine of discovery,” that’s what they use, because there is no criminal case law to prosecute indigenous people in this country.
Senator Paul from Texas has introduced a bill in Congress. It’s in committee and they are waiting for it to be called down for a vote, so I’m supporting them [even though] they left out all the indigenous people, all the nations here in the United States and so we have to create our own bill to go up there. I’m hoping they will pass this bill for the Americans and that mine will just complement theirs, but we have to have this special sovereignty language in ours so that we continue to protect our sovereignty. So we’re left out of the picture, after all these years of struggling. I know Senator Paul probably had good intentions in his mind, however I wish somebody would have communicated to me that they were doing this, and then, we’d have been able to help him out and participate in some fashion.
Other than that, hemp has been just idle. It’s been standing still. I’ve been going out to Indian country, advocating for industrial hemp, educating all our people. I have to overcome all the obstacles — all the marijuana jokes — and then people get down to serious business and they look at it from a fresh perspective. We’re getting to that point where we’re going to start advocating again.
The Navajo Nation and a number of different Indian reservations have passed legislation to grow industrial hemp, but they are all waiting for me to get it legalized, so I have to do a lot of work. We need to get some lawyers together to craft a bill. Recently, I’ve realized that federal Indian law has evolved to become a kind of nightmare. Lawyers who specialize in federal Indian law often say, “Oh, I can do this. No, I can’t do this. Indians can only do this and Indians cannot do this.” So they limit themselves. I want to get some lawyers who do not specialize in Indian law. I want a lawyer who can fight for sovereignty that’s not afraid to take this to task. But it’s really scary because every lawyer that gets the degree and wants to pass the bar has to swear an oath, “I swear to defend the Constitution of the United States,” and so thereby, my issue as an indigenous person is with the United States, so no lawyer will ever take this to its limits. We may have to go to an international lawyer, somebody who is out of this country that will take this [fight] for its pure meaning of what we want because we are another nation. We are a separate, distinct nation in this country. And although we exist in this greater society, I’d like to make an example.
All the other indigenous nations in the world can go to the World Bank to make a loan, to start some form of economic development. However in the United States, we cannot participate in that because we’re colonized by a wealthy state, the United States. So even amongst indigenous peoples, we have to overcome all these obstacles so we can all work cooperatively.
I’m in favor of all forms of economic development as long as it doesn’t have that Western mentality of exploiting the earth, exploiting the air and exploiting the water. To them, all they want to do is make a dollar. They don’t care how much damage they do. I’m not for that. I want economic development to save Mother Earth. She is all we have and right now she is crying out for help. We all have to come to terms with that and we all have to join hands and work cooperatively.
I’m going to fight for Lakota hemp until I can make some money to support my clan for however long it takes. It’s taken a lot out of us and economically we’ve just been devastated, but we believe in it, so we’re not going to give up on it.
June 2007 – The White Plumes continue their work on indigenous peoples’ issues through their grassroots organization Owe Aku, meaning “Bring Back the Way” and the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues where Debra White Plume serves as a delegate.
In August 2006, the White Plumes joined the Inter-Tribal Coalition to Defend Bear Butte at a rally to protect that sacred site from further commercial development. Rosebud White Plume, Alex and Debra’s daughter and a participant in the Lakota Media Project, documented the direct action in the short film Defend Bear Butte!
Screening Standing Silent Nation
After each screening of the film, we have been pleasantly surprised at the frequent refrain of audience members: What can I do to help? We have begun including a section on “Things You Can Do Right Now” as a part of our printed program at our screenings. The list includes everything from writing your legislative representatives to supporting the White Plumes’ activist work to buying a Prairie Dust Films T-shirt.
Audiences identify with the universality of the White Plumes’ desire to preserve their way of life for their family and people. In particular, viewers mention the scenes where the kids are just being kids, enjoying themselves on their family’s land. The beauty of the land is also something that seems to resonate. It’s really another character in the film, and everyone seems to get that. They also respond to the common-sense argument for legalizing industrial hemp, particularly for cultivation on Indian reservations.
One of our favorite screenings was in Rapid City, South Dakota at the Native Voice Film Festival, where many members of the White Plume tiospaye (clan) were in attendance. There was a lot of laughing and excited whispering. But there was also a dose of sadness and some anger, as the family, especially Alex, relived their struggle and all of its hope and disappointment.
Courtney is co-producing the documentary Gurlesque Burlesque (working title) about the last days of the Exotic World Museum, an old Route 66 roadside attraction presided over by former burlesque legend and octogenarian Dixie Evans. Although worlds apart from Pine Ridge, the film contains similar themes about the hardships and satisfactions of struggling to preserve a valued way of life.
Suree is an instructor with the Lakota Media Project, an organization that oversees the training of Lakota youth on video-making skills. She is also distributing her short documentary Tampico, which follows a woman’s struggle to preserve her family’s memory as she plays their music in the Chicago subways. Suree is also in development on a feature documentary about Iran and continues to shoot for others on various projects.